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Timbre

Released Wednesday, 16th October 2019
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Episode 04 Summary

0:00 - Intro 
0:35 - Defining Timbre
  • Timbre refers to color for sound
  • Imagine you have a 128 pack of crayons,
  • Instead of different shades of red, blue, and orange, imagine that you have “sound crayons”
    • Each one is a different timbre
    • One could be the sound of a violin bowing
    • One could be a trumpet fanfare
    • One could be muted trumpet
    • Each of these are different crayons, and each of them are different timbres
  • Some of the “colors” can be similar, but they’re still distinct timbres.
  • Garrett points out that cerulean and cyan are different shades of blue.
  • Amanda draws a similar comparison with the sounds of string instruments
  • Garrett points out that different instruments can play the same written pitch, but they’ll still have a different tone
  • Amanda agrees and points out that timbre is what allows you to tell different instruments and voices apart, even if they’re singing the exact same pitch
    • Garrett does a terrible Amanda impression to illustrate that their voices are distinct
    • Garrett does a better Mickey and Kermit
  • Timbre is a musical term, but you can use it for any distinct sounds
6:21 - The Spelling and Pronunciation of Timbre
  • It rhymes with amber
  • It’s a French word
  • Garrett casually alienates French listeners
  • Most musicians will pronounce it the way Garrett and Amanda are in this episode.
  • We apologize to the French for bastardizing this pronunciation.
8:10 - Human Ears
  • The human ear is probably more attuned to voice for most people
  • Garrett points out that it’s what we listen to the most
  • Garrett gives examples of how dogs and cats like squeaky sounds because they sound like prey
  • Humans have lived in communities for so long that we’re now extremely attuned to human voices
  • It’s probably pretty easy to tell most men’s voices apart from most women’s
  • Garrett points out the power of Mom Ears for their own babies
  • Garrett and Amanda can even tell their cats’ meows apart
  • The same thing that makes it easy of you to tell voices apart, that’s the human ear’s ability to tell apart different timbres.
    • This is very helpful for music.
  • With practice, listeners can learn to differentiate between different instruments, though some will be trickier than others.
  • While it may be easier to differentiate vocalists, chances are you can tell your favorite musicians/bands apart from other similar bands if you’re experienced with the genre
  • Garrett points out that many people’s preferences for or against certain genres have to do with timbral considerations
    • Example: the twang of country music
12:08 Singing Voices
  • We’re pretty picky with vocal styles
  • Examples:
    • Opera
    • Country Music
    • Vibrato
  • The hours we spend talking and communicating probably greatly outweigh the hours we spend listening to music, so it’s not surprising that people get really picky with voice type
13:03 Telling Instruments Apart
  • It takes a more trained ear to hear a difference in instruments than in voices
  • Garrett gives the example of 1980s rock bands and how he can now pick out Brain May’s guitar playing (Queen)
  • The more you listen to certain bands and genres, the easier it will get to tell apart different instrumentalists and vocalists
  • Amanda gives the examples of Freddie Mercury and Louis Armstrong, and how identifiable their voices are for most people
  • Amanda shares a story about successfully identifying an individual trumpet player (Freddie Hubbard)
  • Garrett does his Louis Armstrong impression
15:05 Musical Timbres We Love
  • Garrett likes: A good French horn
  • Garrett calls this instrument “An ugly girl with a pretty voice” (and acknowledges how problematic that description is)
  • French horn is difficult to play, but it’s a very in demand sound
  • Amanda adds that she loves horn “rips”
  • Garrett describes how this sound is made
    • Example: Music at the end of Star Wars Episode I
  • Amanda likes: Brian May’s guitar
  • The guitar’s unique construction and Brian May’s use of a coin instead of a pick helped make his unique timbre
  • Amanda calls this a wailing sound and attributes that common descriptor to guitarists like Brian May
18:54 Musical Timbres We Hate
  • Garrett points out that many people pick on woodwinds
  • Garrett dislikes the high register of the violin
  • Amanda hates the harpsichord
  • Amanda argues that it’s okay to have different ears from your neighbor and prefer different timbres
  • Amanda can still appreciate good harpsichord playing even if she doesn’t like the sound of the instrument
  • Amanda points out that the difference in sound between a harpsichord and a piano  has to do with how the sound is produced (plucking internal strings vs. striking internal strings)
  • Amanda and Garrett lightly make fun of Bassoonists for the second time in this episode (though they do enjoy the bassoon's timbre)
23:04 Recap
  • Timbre is the sound equivalent of color
  • Just like there are many different shades of the colors we all know, there are many different shades that can be achieved by each instrument and by the human voice
  • Thanks to technology, new timbres are created all the time
  • Garrett asks if being tone-deaf is like being colorblind
  • Amanda says yes, and a very small fraction of people are truly tone-deaf (comparable to how many people claim to have OCD tendencies)
  • Timbre is the different sounds that different instruments and voices make and what lets you differentiate between them, even when they are playing/singing the exact same pitch
  
24:20 - Listening Recommendations
  • 24:26 Amanda’s 1st rec: (Movement I from) “Symphonic Dances” by Sergei Rachmaninoff (1940)
    • Specific timbre(s) to listen for: orchestral alto sax! (3:35 into the track)
  • 26:53 Garrett’s 1st rec: IV. "Hoe Down" from “Rodeo” by Aaron Copland (1942)
    • Specific timbre(s) to listen for: violin, xylophone, trumpet
  • 29:06 Amanda’s 2nd rec: “Black and Tan Fantasy” by Duke Ellington (both 1927 and 1945 versions on Spotify)
    • Specific timbre(s) to listen for: Bubber Miley’s trumpet solo and Tricky Sam Nanton’s trombone solo (gutbucket style, mutes, growling/flutter-tongue)
  • 32:08 Garrett’s 2nd rec: Victor Wooten’s performance of "Amazing Grace" (1999 on)
    • Youtube Link
    • Specific timbre(s) to listen for: melodic electric bass
  • 34:08 Amanda’s 3rd rec: Movement I (“Turning”) from “Roda” by Elliot Cole, performed by Projeto Arcomusical (2019)
  • 36:27 Garrett’s 3rd rec: “Sheep Go To Heaven” by Cake (1998)
    • Specific timbre(s) to listen for: chunky guitar, muted trumpet, distinct vocals
  • 38:29 Amanda’s 4th rec: Louis Armstrong’s Performance of “You Rascal You” (1950)
    • Specific timbre(s) to listen for: Louis’s voice and his lead trumpet playing
    • Youtube Link
  • 41:27 Garrett’s 4th rec: “Human” by Rag’n’bone Man (2017)
    • Specific timbre(s) to listen for: Rag’n’bone man’s voice
 
43:42 Answering Listener Questions!
  • 44:03 Danni G wants to know: If someone was looking to dip their toes back into the music world, what would be some of your tips?  A place to find local concerts or music groups to join?
44:12 Amanda: Visit Your Local Music Store
  • When local musicians want to promote a concert or group, they’ll do it at the music store
  • Garrett points out that they may need their instrument repaired or maintained, so they’ll visit there
  • Amanda says it’s a good place to stay in touch with the musical community and the employees usually know all the groups and teachers in town
  • Consider grabbing a lesson just to refresh your skills and find out more about what’s available for you
  • Try to find a shop that stocks your instruments if you’re looking for info on musical groups you can join.  Guitar Center might not be the best pick.
  • Garrett points out that lessons don’t have to be a huge commitment, so don’t be afraid to take just one lesson.
46:22 Garrett: Colleges and the Elderly
  • Hit up the local college because colleges promote music, and they often have ensembles that community members can join
  • The senior sampler (or whatever your equivalent is) is a good resource too, since retirees often have the time and means to support/pursue the arts
    • Community bands and orchestras will be listed in the senior sampler
47:30 Amanda: Considerations
  • We took this as more of a band/orchestra question.
  • If you’re trying to get into the rock scene, that might require different resources
  • The music store is still a helpful place to start!  Grab a lesson!
  • Also, college faculty often direct these community groups, so stopping by the university is a good first step (or e-mail if you don’t have a connection yet/you’re shy)
48:26 Amanda: It’s Never Too Late!
  • It’s never too late to get back into your instrument or pick up a new one!
  • Amanda mentions retirees who rock out
  • It’s not about how good you are… music is fulfilling and fun!
  • It’s probably more fun now that your parents aren’t forcing you to do it
49:37 Sign Off
  • Thanks for listening and thanks for your feedback!  We appreciate you!
  • New episodes will be released on the 1st and 15th of every month!
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Special thanks to OpenMusicRevolution.com for our intro and outro music and to the guys at Better Podcasting for being such great guides to us.  Special thanks to you, our listeners, too!
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